How to Clean a Grill

Man cleaning outdoor gas grill with brush. iStock

Cooking over open flames may be a chef’s delight, but now it’s time to clean your grill. Read on to learn how to properly clean and maintain your gas or charcoal grill.

Whether gas- or charcoal-powered, certain parts of your grill need a good deep clean on a regular basis. If you’re using your barbecue daily, you may want to clean the grill every couple of weeks, or more often if it’s accumulating a lot of burnt-on debris.

At the very least, you should deep clean your grill at the beginning and end of each grilling season. Check out these easy steps to learn how to clean your grill the right way.

What You Need to Clean Your Grill

Before you begin cleaning, make sure the grill is completely cool, including the grates, ash box, and all components. You can heat the grill for 15 minutes before you start cleaning it in order to burn off excess debris on the grates, but make sure to let it cool down until it’s warm, and use a grill brush to scrape off ash and loosened debris.

Note: Do not use oven cleaner on a grill or put any part of a grill in a dishwasher.

Steps for Cleaning Your Grill

Step 1: Disconnect fuel tank from grill

If you’re using a gas grill, make sure your fuel valve is completely off before you start cleaning. This valve may be located on your grill’s propane tank, or if the grill’s hardwired into a natural gas line, the valve may be located along that pipeline.

Step 2: Remove and clean grill grates

Grill grate being cleaned by a woman with a sponge. iStock

Even if you use a grill brush (we like ones without bristles that can break off and end up in your food) or a grill scraper between cookouts, a deep clean will give you a chance to remove any leftover bits with a long soak and some careful attention.

Put the grill grates into a large basin (like a utility sink or plastic tub) or a deep utility bucket and cover them with warm to hot water and a grease-fighting soap, such as Dawn dish soap. Let the grates sit in the soapy water for an hour.

Afterwards, you should be able to easily wipe off any stuck-on debris with paper towels or a sponge. If you have any particularly difficult bits, you can remove them using a scrubbing pad, steel wool, or even a crumpled-up piece of aluminum foil (held with gloves or tongs).

If you’re unable to clean the grates sufficiently with soap and water, try a dedicated grill cleaning solution, white vinegar, or a gentle cleaning paste made of baking soda and water.

NOTE: To clean cast iron grill grates, skip the soaking step and use a sponge and warm water to remove debris. (Mild soap can be used if needed.) After cleaning, immediately dry the grates completely to prevent rust. Apply vegetable oil to clean grates as noted below in Step 6.

Continue to the next steps, which will vary depending on what type of grill you have.

Step 3: Clean out used charcoal or wood

If you have a charcoal or wood chip-burning grill (such as in a separate smoker box), you can use a garden trowel or even a fireplace ash shovel (or in a pinch, a disposable plastic cup) to remove old coals and ash from the bottom of your grill.

Dispose of the ashes properly, in a trash bag or other closed container. Check the ash box for any damage or holes, while you use a small brush or hand broom (or a shop vacuum) to remove any remaining ashes.

Make sure all grill vent holes are clear of debris while you remove ash.

Note: Check our tips for grill maintenance checks you can perform on all parts of your grill, from fuel hoses to the joints on the chassis.

Step 4: Clean the inside and lid of the grill

With the grates off and the ash box clean, use a sponge and soapy water to wipe down the inside of the lid and the inside walls of the grill. You will likely find soot, debris, and burnt-on grease on these parts. If you need more cleaning power, you can use vinegar or a dedicated grill cleaner—check with your owner’s manual to see what cleaners are recommended.

Some grill surfaces, like stainless steel, are best cleaned with a stainless-steal cleaner, while ceramic and painted grills should be cleaned with soap and water.

Wipe down the outside of the grill and lid and dry them with a clean cloth.

Step 5: Remove and clean gas grill burners, heat reflectors, Flavorizer Bars, and grease tray

Grease and food can drip down into grease trays and grease catchers, or onto “Flavorizer Bars”/radiant bars on some (but not all) gas grills.

  • You can remove the flavorizer bars and soak them in a basin like the grill grates, using soap and warm water and a sponge to clean them. If your bars look damaged or rusted, you can replace them. Once clean, dry components carefully and return them to their location in the grill.
  • Repeat the same cleaning process with the grill heat reflectors, using soapy water and a stiff brush to remove any grease or debris that may be stuck on or blocking heat vents.
  • Remove the gas grill burners and clean them using a stiff brush and warm soapy water.
  • For the grease tray and smaller grease catcher, remove and carefully clean out any accumulated grease with a paper towel or rag, and then use soapy water to remove remaining debris.
  • Rinse parts with clean water and return them carefully once they are completely dry.

Step 6: Oil the grates

Apply vegetable oil to a folded paper towel and carefully apply a light coat of oil to the clean and dry grill grates. This protects them from rust as well as damage from your next round of slightly singed steaks.

Replace the grates, and you’re ready to use your super-clean grill—or store it for the season with a cover to protect it from the elements.

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